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Learning Perspective-Taking (page 2)

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Jul 20, 2010

This information about children’s thinking should help you to be more accepting of how they behave. You will respond differently when you realize that young children probably aren’t being mean when they disregard another child’s feelings; they’re just being young. This information about levels of intellectual development also offers essential guidance for helping children move to higher levels. The message is not to just accept the child’s lack of perspective-taking, but to aim your teaching one level higher than what the child is doing (DeVries, Hildebrandt, & Zan, 2000).

Working with young children, you will often see situations like the following:

Jessie is working on a drawing, using the only yellow marker at the table. Jack reaches over and grabs the marker out of Jessie’s hand. He seems somewhat startled when Jessie yells at him and tries to grab the marker back. Soon the two are in a tug-of-war, with both sides claiming they need the marker.

Dennis stops the struggle and calms the children with his gentle presence. He works at getting each child to explain his or her feelings, trying to get them to use the “I messages” he consistently models. Then Dennis shows Jack where he can get another yellow marker.

When Jack grabbed Jessie’s marker, he demonstrated that his perspective taking was at level 0. He took the marker simply because he wanted it, with no thought about Jamie. Therefore, Dennis aimed at helping Jack realize that Jessie has wishes and feelings, too. It probably wouldn’t be worthwhile trying to teach higher-level cooperative negotiation to Jack because it would be too far above his level of understanding.

Children can make better than normal progress through these levels of understanding with the support of understanding teachers (DeVries & Zan, 2006). And, as Vygotsky (1962/1934) reminds us, children can perform at higher levels with assistance than they can alone. Vygotsky’s writings about the zone of proximal development and scaffolding refer to how adults help children to do things, and thus teach them to perform independently. Puppets, role playing, and storybooks may also provide assistance to children as they learn to think about the feelings of others. In Jamaicas Blue Marker (Havill, 1995), Jamaica comes to understand why Russell was acting mean; this type of story may help your young students think about how others feel.

The ability to understand and empathize with others is crucial to adult society as well as children’s interactions. “Children are less likely to behave aggressively toward someone if they can put themselves in the other person’s place and imagine that person’s thoughts and feelings” (Slaby, Roedell, Arezzo, & Hendrix, 1995, p. 145). This statement seems equally true for adults.

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